Sam Pulitzer"Imagine you’re in class trying to understand why painting is coming back on the market in 2005. Then you go to this performance and you get really high and think: why do I care about all that other shit?"
Interview by Asher Penn
Self Portrait by Sam Pulitzer
Self Portrait by Sam Pulitzer
I first came into contact with Sam Pulitzer when he was a photography student at the Rhode Island School of Design. Two years my junior, he immediately stood out from his peers with an encyclopedic cultural knowledge and work that was radically different from what his colleagues were producing. Since graduating in 2006, Pulitzer has gone on to make a singular impression on the New York art world, gaining infamy for his semi-anonymous hate-core blog Jerry Magoo , critical writings in magazines like Artforum, and memorable exhibitions at artist-run galleries like Real Fine Arts. Pulitzer’s output has consistently manifested as a response both to his personal life and interests as well as what he sees going on around him, using art and writing as a tool to trespass and profane the institutional structures that define its distribution and reception.
We met at RISD. Why did you decide to go there?
I don't know. I didn’t want to go to Bard. I wanted to be in a city, but I didn’t get into any colleges in New York.
You wanted to study art?
No. It was between art and writing. And then I thought maybe I should just study art. I’m glad I did. I think everyone I meet from liberal arts school is okay, but they’re just not the same.
Art is more fun?
It’s definitely more fun. It’s got a more exuberant sense of pleasure. On the other hand RISD was really conservative. At least while I was there. RISD is a design school, so it’s got a lot of kids that are really looking to have a career right out of college.
School was school. I met you. I liked Providence. It’s a beautiful place. Freshman year was delightful. But then sophomore year when you’re in the major, you think: ugh, this sucks. I hated the darkroom. It made my skin break out. But I decided I didn’t want to switch majors. I didn’t want to switch schools and spend more time in college. I just wanted to get out of there as soon as I could in a way. Not that I tried to graduate early because I didn’t like being a good student. I didn’t have a great attitude.
Were you even into photography?
I don't know. I liked art. I was very pretentious. I was very into what you see at museums. RISD is good in the sense that it has an okay library. It also has a great video library. I spent so much time there. I also took courses at Brown. That school sucks, too. But honestly just being in Providence was great. Going to see shitty screamo or noise rock shows, that was great.
What was the story with your senior show, Community Power Walls?
I was thinking a lot about being in Providence, my experience of being in school. I was starting to be more serious about reading and understanding theory and things like that. I was starting to understand myself as an institutional subject. At the same time Providence offered all these wonderful alternatives of how creativity can be produced outside of official institutions.
Like Fort Thunder.
Yeah. Or the Sickle, wink wink. Imagine you’re in class trying to understand why painting is coming back on the market in 2005. Then you go to this performance and you get really high and think: why do I care about all that other shit? But maybe that’s more of an attitude I have now than I did at that point. We were in college in the boom years. A lot of what was being praised by teachers and discussed back then was really about what was selling.
So this show was a response to that? What was in the show?
I just bought three generic sheets of dry wall—like four by eight feet or whatever—and then I painted a really hideous mural on each one, like in a funky café kind of manner. One was good, two were horrible. And so the two bad ones I just turned into a merch table with the mural facing down so you didn't see it. It sat on two saw horses, which I "commandeered" from the sculpture department. And then I put all of these posters on top of that, maybe also a print or two.
And then you put photo prints in frames right?
I was thinking about this tension between rough, austere work and the framing that happens in institutions. I had this meeting with the Dean at one point, I think just to get the alcohol for the opening. Anyway, in his office I saw all of these framed artworks. It was work by the good students. I wasn’t a good student. I thought: fuck these good students. I’m going to frame my work the same way. I wanted to pickle my work in these same frames.
What were the images you framed?
They were like half analog, half digital photo collages. Some of them were hideous as fuck, and others had a more artisanal, sophisticated touch. I framed and hung all of them on the drywall and throughout the space.
There was so much pressure on those shows I remember.
I was just having fun. I think I just had a chip on my shoulder that didn't want to conform. For me it went from: why the fuck am I in school? To: why do I want to be an artist? To: why am I in school to be an artist? And finally: how do I find an effective compromise? And then there’s the show. How do you find pleasure in being subjected? I’m very romantic at heart, actually. I felt pinioned by this gargantuan school that just wanted my money.
I feel like a lot of student’s end up with Stockholm Syndrome.
It’s more like: how can you break out of a prison if you don't know you’re in it? Everything is about learning. You got to school, you learn. Does that make us get more jaded about the universe? Or do we get more absorbed in the Veils of Maya, to speak like a hippie? I wanted to make work like that. That was what I liked. I like work that’s about being a little fucked up, but still having the appearance of intelligence. I mean, I do have four eyes.
Like a fucked up dork?
Yeah, basically. That’s my psychic dilemma right there. It’s just my careerism. I want to be fucked up, but I’m trying to find a efficient compromise.
Then you moved to NY New York and worked at Greene Naftali. How was that?
It wasn't an easy job. It felt like getting paid to go to grad school. I learned a lot. You don't learn anything in college. You learn when you’re actually doing the thing you want to be doing.
What were you learning at the gallery?
I learned how the fiction of contemporary art is created. I learned how to write a press release in an hour.
You wrote them in an hour?
It’s easy to write a press release. You’re wearing a mask when you write it. It’s anonymous. I mean, not really anonymous, but anonymous enough. I think my best writing has been press releases.
I like when writing is instrumentalized. I like when it’s put to use. That’s what the blog was.
Why did you start your blog, Jerry Magoo?
I was trying to become a better writer. I felt that I better start thinking about what I want to be doing as an artist or something like that. It was totally self-serving. The whole blog form is made to market. Every brand that exists has a blog to promote themselves. For me, honestly, it’s been a promotional tool. Granted, now I’m disclosing the fact that I’ve done it. Everyone knows it. They’vere known about it for a long time.
There weren’t that many art blogs at the time, right?
Jerry Magoo started out around the same time as Contemporary Art Daily. And the difference was simple: one blog wore white clothes, and one blog wore black clothes. One was a prep, and one was a despondent goth, or something like that. If you want to be a “good artist” you want the positive feedback of seeing yourself on Contemporary Art Daily. But if you’re on Magoo, it’s negative feedback. In a way, it all came out of listening to noise music. I like listening to negative feedback as a thing that comes out of my speakers. I love the positive feedback too, sometimes—nice harmonic scales. But in the end, it's all low level cybernetics, volunteer police work to point fingers toward the writing "better" behavioral procedures.
You fielded a lot of negative feedback for the blog.
The criticism was always like this: you should be more discursive. You should be more self-reflexive. This was coming from people that studied at the Whitney ISP program. But look, I’m a fucking blogger. I’m trash, I’m sub-human. I adapted my writing to the form. I didn’t want to transcend the blog form at all. I wanted to make writing that was halfway between a shitty emo reaction to the world around me, and all the back talk that clogged up my brain after working at a gallery for a few years mixed with the now commonplace habit of looking at too much art online.
It was like irresponsible criticism.
One person compared me to a terrorist, which maybe I am. I just like using words for their power, as opposed to their capacity to drum up pleasant visions of what’s going on. I don’t like pleasant visions.